General Royal Regatta page


1890: The Grand was won by London R.C. in 7:04 ?
1890: The Diamonds was won by G. Nickalls (Magdalen College, Oxford) in 8:57½

1890: Punch -

Yesterday being the opening day of the Regatta, was observed as a holiday by the natives of Henley. The ancient ceremonial of "Prices up and money down, was, as usual, observed with proper solemnity by all the burgesses of the little Oxfordshire town. There was some boat-racing during the day; but it is beginning to be felt that a stop should be put to this barbarous survival of the dark ages.

Henley, Monday.

I have arrived, and Henley once more is Henley. Even the weather has recognised me, and good old Plu himself came out to shake me by the hand and talk of old times. The course is of the usual length, but a slight alteration has been made in the breadth. Many house-boats are moored along the Oxfordshire bank. The bridge has not changed its position since I saw it last. The courteous Secretary of the Regatta assured me, that my complaint with reference to the impediment which this structure offers to rowing-boats had been laid before the Stewards. No action, however, is to be taken this year.

This being the day before the Regatta, very heavy work was done by all the crews engaged in the race for the GRAND CHALLENGE CUP. They all have a good chance, and, personally, I should not feel the least surprise if I saw at least two eights rowing in the final heat on Thursday. Thames, London, Brasenose, Kingston, New College, and Trinity Hall all possess some "sterling oarsmen," and carry "banners" of different colours. I may remark, in passing, that no crew is allowed to row with more than eight oars.

The race for the STEWARDS will be exciting. All these officials are in hard training, but the Mayor of Henley is favourite at short odds.*

* Note by the Editor. - Are you sure this is right?
Reply. Right? Of course it is. I'm here, and I ought to know.

I notice that the LADIES have a race all to themselves. Doubtless this is due to Miss Fawcett's pernicious example, but the innovation is not to be commended.

The entries for the VISITORS are of average quality. Three visitors only are to compete over a course of picnic luncheons and strawberries and cream.

I have only room left to remark that the weather has been changeable, and that all the above tips are to be thoroughly relied upon.

1890: London of Today - a handbook for the season -


Since the old pageants of Venice, nothing has been produced to excel the beauty of the scene at Henley during the regatta. It is far and away the prettiest festival of the kind London, or indeed England, has to offer. Formal aquatic processions on the Thames has dwindled to the "Fourth of June" celebration at Eton, for the Lord Mayor's pageant no longer returns by water to the City from Westminster.

Athleticism has taken the place of antique ceremonial; and we have now at Henley, apart from the cause of the gathering, such an assemblage of parti-coloured boats, awnings, flowers, and flags, not to mention pleasant company, as could hardly be matched anywhere.

Fine summer weather is indispensable to the full enjoyment of the regatta, for then the charming upper reaches of the Thames are seen at their best.

The visitor who can command the hospitalities of a "house-boat" is to be congratulated. At the annual season of festivity, all the hostelries and available ancillary lodgings of the little town are occupied. The only method left of enjoying the scene in reasonable comfort is that of having a home on the waters, a floating house of one's own (or a share of one with a friend), "a fluviatile analogue", as has been said, of the four-inhand at Ascot, and the family landau at "Lord's" during the Universities' or the Public Schools' cricket matches.

Excitement in the sport going forward is agreeably tempered by strawberries and cream, and "cups" and dainty drinks mingled and iced too wisely and too well.

From a little country jollification, Henley Regatta has, like Ascot Races, been growing to the proportions of a national holiday, though, luckily, the distance from London and the absence of a betting-ring, keeps the rougher people away.

The competition of rival clubs and crews at Henley is fiercer than of yore. The absence of the representative University crews, which formerly met there, has been amply compensated by the presence of the numerous boatingclubs which have grown into existence since the Oxford and Cambridge crews rowed their first race over the Henley course.

As watermen's regattas and rowing matches fell into discredit on the Lower Thames, clubs of amateurs increased and multiplied. Selected crews of the best of these clubs, from the Oxford and Cambridge Colleges and the Public Schools, and occasionally from America and France, combine to give a zest to the Henley Regatta, by exhibiting their "best form" in the several competitions.

1891: The Grand was won by Leander Club in 6:51
1891: The Diamonds was won by V. Nickalls (Magdalen College, Oxford)

1891: The Start - a staggered start from below Temple Island on the Bucks side, the starting boats being punts, moored to ryepecks (poles) -

The Start at Henley,RIGHT bank (Bucks) side of Temple Island
Final of the Stewards' Challenge Cup 1891, Thames Rowing Club v Trinity Hall Cambridge.
Painting owned by Thames Rowing Club

The Umpire's launch is the ARAMIS a DesVignes boat first used in 1891.
The club have identified various people in the above painting -

Key: 1. Miss Clarke, 2. Miss Landale,
Trinity Hall Four: 3. J.C. Garrick (bow), 4. E.M. Lord, 5. W. Landale, 6. C.T. Fogg Elliot (stroke),
7. J.H.D. Goldie (Umpire), 8. F. Willan (Umpire), 9. Master Goldie, 10. J.C. Tinne, 11. R.H. Labat,
Thames Four: 12. B.W. Looker (bow), 13. P. Landale, 14. F.E.C. Clarke, 15. J.C. Gardner (stroke).

This was the final of the Stewards, Thames having already won a hard race against Magdalen College, Oxford. In the final, Percy Landale, [Thames] two was up against his younger brother, Walter, in the Trinity Hall boat - both were Cambridge Blues.

Thames won easily but the Hall had their consolation prize when they won the Visitors' with the same crew.

1891: James Kenneth Stephen (1859-1892): Steam-Launches On the Thames -
Henley, June 7, 1891 Listen to 'Steam Launches on the Thames' -

Shall we, to whom the stream by right belongs,
Who travel silent, save, perchance, for songs;
Whose track's a ripple, - leaves the Thames a lake,
Nor frights the swan - scarce makes the rushes shake;
Who harmonize, exemplify, complete
And vivify a scene already sweet:
Who travel careless on, from lock to lock,
Oblivious that the world contains a clock,
With pace commensurate to our desires,
Propelled by other force than Stygian fire's;
Shall we be driven hence to leave a place
For these, who bring upon our stream disgrace:
The rush, the roar, the stench, the smoke, the steam,
The nightmare striking through our heavenly dream;
The scream as shrill and hateful to the ear
As when a peacock vents his rage and fear;
Which churn to fury all a glassy reach,
And heave rude breakers on a pebbly beach:
Which half o'erwhelm with waves our frailer craft,
While graceless shop-boys chuckle fore and aft:
Foul water-toadstools, noisome filth-stained shapes,
Fit only to be manned by dogs and apes:
Blots upon nature: scars that mar her smile:
Obscene, obtrusive, execrable, vile?

[ See Monkey Island for shocking revelations! ]
A LAZY LAY originally contributed anonymously by Ashby-Sterry to PUNCH introduced as 'On board the “Athena”, Henley-on-Thames. Henley Regatta' , and found in a slightly different version with an extra verse, in his RIVER RHYMER.
The spoken version is the PUNCH setting - Listen to 'A Regatta Rhyme' -

All those who make a toil of pleasure
Have small regard for others' leisure!

Tis pleasant, 'tis true, from punt or canoe
To gaze on the prospect enthralling:
To paddle around, where friends may be found -
At housboat or launch to be calling!
I love the fresh air, the lunch here and there,
To see pretty toilettes and faces;
But one thing I hate – allow me to state –
The fuss they make over the Races!
I don’t care you know, a bit how they row,
Nor mind about smartness of feather;
If steering is bad, I’m not at all sad,
Nor care if they swing altogether!
Oh why do they shout and make such a rout,
When one boat another one chases?
‘Tis really too hot to bawl, is it not?
Or bore oneself over the races!
Then the Umpire’s boat a nuisance we vote,
It interrupts calm contemplation;
Its discordant tone, and horrid steam moan,
Is death to serene meditation!
The roar of the crowd should not be allowed;
The gun with its fierce fulmination,
Abolish it, pray – ‘tis fatal, they say,
To pleasant and quiet flirtation.
If athletes must show their muscle, I trow
They should have some other employment;
And let it be clear, they don’t interfere
With other folks' quiet enjoyment!
When luncheon your o’er, ‘tis really a bore –
And I think it a very hard case is –
To have to look up, from pâté or cup,
And gaze on those tiresome Races!

The races, to me, seem to strike a wrong key
'Mid dreamy delightful diversion:
There is'nt much fun when men in the sun
All suffer from over-exertion!
In sweet idle days, when all love to laze,
Such violent work a disgrace is!
Let's hope we shall see, they all will agree
To next year abolish the Races!

1892: The Grand was won by Leander Club in 7:48 ?
1892: The Diamonds was won by J.J.K. Ooms (Neptunus R.C., Amsterdam) in 10:09½ ???
J.J.K. OOMS, an amateur sculler from Amsterdam, won the "Diamond Sculls" easily, beating G. NICKALS amongst others.
Punch's comment was this poem -


Oh, OOMS was a champion brave and bold,
The Dutchman's pride was he;
And he cried, "I can row on the Thames, I know,
As well as the Zuyder Zee,
As well as the Zuyder Zee!"
And as his boat he set afloat,
And looked o'er the Henley tide,
He saw all England taking note,
And he trimmed his sculls and cried:-
"I'll win those 'Sculls!'" said he,
"The 'Diamond Sculls' for me!
That the world may know, wherever I go
Thames yields to the Zuyder Zee!"

Cried JOHN BULL, "Here! You Dutchman queer.
To-day you must row with me;
For while I ride Thames' silver tide,
I'll be second to none," said he;
"I'll be second to none," said he.
So they blazed away at that Dutchman gay,
Stout NICKALS, brave BOYD, and all -
But the Dutchman's ship our best did whip,
And BULL cried to his merry men all,
"We're whipped, boys, for once," said he,
"It's a whip that's a licker to me."
Right well OOMS pulls, and the 'Diamond Sculls'
Are gone to the Zuyder Zee!
VAN TROMP with his broom made free,
But this OOMS has "swept" Henley.
Here's his health! But oh! those Sculls, you know,
Must come back from the Zuyder Zee."

... I yearned for the silvery smoothness of Father Thames, so started for Henley ... but, oh! my goodness! - talk about billows - the Channel passage is a fool to what we found at Henley! Waves mountain high! - (This of course is an exaggeration, but I've read it so often in sea-novels, that I've almost come to believe it possible ...)

I had to sit all day on the roof of the [boat] with a lifebelt or something round my waist! - and having made me acquaintance of a sweet youth who could swim, I implored him not to leave me! - and he didn't - the whole day long. Ah! he was very nice!

I need not tell you I didn't notice the racing much, but I did take an interest in two of the contests; viz. - (I don't know what "viz." means - but I do know I am using it correctly) - The Diamond Sculls, and The Ladies' Challenge.

The Diamonds were walked off, or rowed off to Holland - (great place, I'm told, for diamonds) - by Mr. K. OOMS (who evidently "kooms" of an athletic stock), amid the generous cheers of our defeated Englishmen!

The other - and naturally, from its title, the most important event - was competed for by two boat-loads from Cambridge University - Crews, I believe, they call them, but I always thought it was a sign of contempt to allude to any party of people as "a crew." However that may be, I was informed that "First Trinity had carried off the Ladies!" (just as if they were a pack of Sabine women), and I suppose it was true; though, in counting up the Ladies in sight, I only missed one - and she, I found, had fallen into the river, and been gallantly rescued by a spectator, who, I presume, was determined to have his share, in spite of the First Trinity Men!
Yours devotedly, LADY GAY.

1893: The Oval Boating Costume -

Oval Boating Costume 1893
The Oval Boating Costume 1893

1893: The Grand was won by Leander Club in 7:12
1893: The Diamonds was won by G. Nickalls (Magdalen College, Oxford in 9:12

1893: The new course from the 1893 programme -

Henley Regatta New Course 1893
Henley Regatta New Course 1893

Note that the new course was not the course we now know. The start was on the Bucks side of Temple Island, and the course is shown as marked with flags.

Crowded Henley Regatta 1890s
The Finish just after a race has ended. 1890s

An Almanack Whitaker -

Henley Royal Regatta took place July 5th, 6th, and 7th. The entries were a record, viz., 56, including several French crews, and Ryan, a doubtful Canadian amateur, who did not appear, and thus avoided a very probable objection.

Except on the first day, when a perfect deluge of rain about noon spoilt everything, the attendances were very large and the weather delightful. On the Wednesday, a wind up the course made times very fast all through the day, but on the Thursday and Friday the wind was foul, and the times slow.

On the opening day, three out of the four heats for the Grand were timed inside 7 mins., 6 mins. 56 secs. by Leander against Magdalen College, Oxford, being the fastest. Also the Molesey crew in their heat of the Wyfold against London made a record for fours, viz., 7mins. 34secs. The French crews were uniformly unsuccessful. The Thames Club beat the Basse Seine Grand Challenge Cup eight, and also the same clubs four in a heat for the Stewards' Cup.

In the latter event, the defeat of the Frenchmen caused a most unpleasant incident, the Thames men being accused of wilfully boring and driving the visitors on to the Bucks piles. The Thames were called before the stewards, and their explanation was accepted.

The French entries were also unsuccessful in both the Goblets and Diamonds.

On the last day the results were:
Grand Challenge Cup, Leander Club, time 7 mins 12 secs
Ladies' Plate, Eton College. time 7 mins 32 secs.
Thames Cup, Thames R. C, time 7 mins 49 secs
Stewards' Cup, Magdalen College, Oxford time 7 mins. 45 secs.
Visitors* Cup, Third Trinity, Cambridge, time 8 mins. 21 secs.
Wyfold Cup, Molesey B. C.,time 8 mins. 28 secs.
Silver Goblets, V. Nickalls and W.A.L.Fletcher, OUBC, time 8 mins 47 secs.
Diamond Sculls, G.Nickalls, OUBC, time 9 mins 12 secs

Baron de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games was among the supporters of the French crews - and was a guest on the umpire's boat.
His account of the "most unpleasant incident" differed from Whittaker.
"This Great Symbol: Pierre de Coubertin and the Origins of the Modern Olympic Games" by John J. MacAloon:

On the second day of the regatta, an unfortunate incident, as de Coubertin described it, took place. The boat of the Thames rowing club veered off course and smacked into the French boat, knocking it in turn into one of the buoys marking the course. The French, who had been leading when the mishap occurred, were unable to catch up and lost the race. Decoubertin, who had watched the affair from the judge's boat, found the French team confused about the incident when they had first disembarked. But an hour later, the young men changed their minds and decided to file a protest.
By reminding them that it would be bad form to accuse an English team of dirty tricks after they had been so well received on their first visit to Henley;
that it could not be proved that the Thames club had struck them on purpose;
that their change of mind an hour after the race would not be understood and that they could take moral benefit from swallowing their disappointment de Coubertin managed to talk them out of their protest.
The next day the English newspapers lauded the sportsmanship and manliness of the French, and at the prize-giving ceremony they were roundly aplauded and complimented by the regatta president for having given a lesson not only in good sportsmanship but also in perfect courtesy.
But the boys were not placated and returned from Henley discontented and hostile, on account not only of their defeat but also of British cant.

1893: Punch was one of the newspapers to attempt to make up the quarrel (or join in the cant - according to one's point of view) -

(From Mr. Punch, at Henley.)

Here's a hand, my fine fellows; in friendship you come,
And Punch, who likes courage, would scorn to be dumb.
He greets you with cheers; may your shades ne'er diminish,
Though you row forty-four from the start to the finish.

You will bear yourselves bravely, and merit your fame,
For brave man and Frenchman mean mostly the same.
We shall do what we can it's our duty to beat you,
But we know it will take a tough crew to defeat you.

And whatever the upshot, howe'er the race ends,
You and we, having struggled, shall always be friends.
So accept, while we cheer you again and again,
This welcome from Thames to his sister, the Seine.

1894: The Grand was won by Leander Club in 7:22
1894: The Diamonds was won by G. Nickalls (Formosa B.C.) in 9:32

In the previous year, Birt Acres experimented with strips of celluloid.
George Eastman had put on the market Kodak cameras with 70mm roll film. Acres bought a number of these films and joined them together to make longer lengths.
In 1894 Acres, with Cooper as his assistant, filmed Henley Regatta.
Nothing of these early experiments survived other than the stories which were told by Cooper and Acres to their children. The tangible exception is a strip of negatives of the 1894 Henley Royal Regatta, kept by the Museum of Modern Arts in New York. The contact print of the strip of 70mm film is kept by Birt Acres' grandchildren.

1894 contact print of movie of Henley Regatta
Henley Regatta: contact print of the strip of 70mm film
taken by Birt acres at Henley during 5-7 July 1894

1895: The Grand was won by Trinity Hall, Cambridge in 7:30
1895: The Diamonds was won by R. Guinness (Leander Club) in 9:11
R C Lehmann in "The Complete Oarsman" describes Trinity Hall's victory in the Grand -

Trinity Hall won the Grand again in 1895. This year a Cornell College Eight had come over from America, and had entered for the Grand Challenge Cup. They were coached by a professional named Courtney, used practically no body swing, and attempted to row a very fast stroke. Besides these the chief competitors were a good Leander crew, and a smart and level crew from New College, Oxford.

Leander were drawn against Cornell in the preliminary round. Owing to a deplorable mistake they were unable to start when the Umpire gave the word, and Cornell rowed over the course alone. The incident will be found fully described [below]

On the following day Trinity Hall had to meet Cornell. There had been little to choose between the times accomplished by these two crews over the course in practice. The advantage, if anything, was slightly in favour of Cornell, but the Englishmen relied on their great uniformity and their stronger and more consistent body work, as against the piston action of the Americans.

Cornell dashed off at a tremendous rate, but the lead they obtained was only a small one. Trinity Hall were stroked by D. A. Wauchope, and they plugged and swung along imperturbably.

At the White House the race was settled, for the Hall were ahead and the Americans were manifestly tiring. A few strokes further on Cornell fell to pieces, and to all intents and purposes collapsed, leaving Trinity Hall to finish at their ease.

In the final the Hall met New College. The Oxford men had the worse station, for the wind was off the bushes, not a very strong wind, but enough to give a slight advantage to the boat which rowed, as Trinity Hall did, under the lee of that shore. A magnificent race ended in favour of the Hall by one third of a length.

1895: College Barge Luncheon Party -

Henley Regatta Luncheon 1895
Henley Regatta Luncheon 1895

1895: Amongst the races the above spectators expected to see was the 3rd heat of the Grand Challenge Cup, Leander v Cornell University -

On the Umpire giving the caution "Are you ready?" several of the Leander crew called "No", which, owing to the strong wind blowing off the Bucks shore, the Umpire did not hear, but gave the signal to start.

The Cornell crew went off, one or two of the Leander crew rowed a stroke, but the others did not, expecting the Umpire to call Cornell back.

He, however, thinking Leander had only made a bad start, did not do so. Cornell consequently rowed over the course alone, Leander not racing.

Leander felt their situation so acutely that, rather than suffer the embarassment of paddling back to the raft, they left their boat at the start and walked up the towpath.

As they grimly strode along a small American newspaper reporter trotted after them saying:
"Gentlemen, I should be vurry glad of your opinion of this remarkable occurrence for the benefit of my paper's readers."
Whereupon answer came swiftly from one of the crew who usually lapsed into taciturnity:
"My opinion is that you are a bloody little b--r, and you can wire that across the Atlantic."

[ My friend, whose great grandfather was the umpire in question, when I drew his attention to this, had no comment to make and changed the subject. ]

1896: The Grand was won by Leander Club in 7:43
1896: The Diamonds was won by R. Guinness (Leander Club) in 9:35

1896 & 1897: Balliol College, Oxford Rowing Archives include several Henley Regatta photos.

1897: Course straightened.
1897: The Grand was won by New College, Oxford in 6:51
1897: The Diamonds was won by E.H. Ten Eyck (Wachusett B.C., Worcester, U.S.) in 8:35
R C Lehamnn in "The Complete Oarsman" -

New College, Oxford, crew, though not of exceptional physical strength, was a very level one. It contained four Blues (J. J. de Knoop, bow, G. O. Edwards No. 2, C. K. Philips No. 5, and W. E. Crum No. 7). R. O. Pitman, who rowed No. 3, gained his Blue in the following year. H. Whitworth was stroke, very regular and very long, while two powerful men, H. Thorp, an Etonian, and A. O. Dowson, a Wykehamist, were at Nos. 6 and 4.

It was in all respects a genuine College crew of the very best kind. They rowed with long oars, measuring 12 feet 6 inches overall, the blades being cut down to 5.5 inches. They were well coached, and improved very steadily during their Henley practice, their chief merits being great length, a good rhythm, and admirable uniformity.

Their most dangerous rivals were a Leander crew, stroked by Gold. This crew contained, in addition to Guy Nickalls, some first-class oars. It had, however, a curious unsteadiness in its swing, and was not very well welded together. Origin- ally Dudley Ward had been rowing No. 7, but he had had to retire through illness, and his place was filled a week before the race by C. J. D. Goldie, a freshman from Cambridge. This crew, like all the Leander crews since 1891 onwards, rowed with oars measuring 12 feet over all, the blades being 6 inches.

The final heat between New College and Leander was one of the most exciting and sternly fought races ever seen at Henley.

By dint of a very high rate of stroke, Leander rushed away from their competitors at the start, and in three minutes they were a length ahead, and were still keeping up their lightning stroke.

From Remenham, however, they could not add to their lead, and soon afterwards New College began, WITHOUT ANY PERCEPTIBLE QUICKENING, to creep up to them. Leander spurted, but after Fawley they began to tire, and New College were still gaining.

At the White House there was very little in it one way or the other, though Leander, I think, were still a little ahead. From this point it was a case of spurt against spurt, but the length and the better condition of New College told, and they passed the post two feet in front of Leander.

[ This is the classic move to increase the pace without raising the rating. It requires a level of fitness and discipline which few crews can attain. ]

1898: The Grand was won by Leander Club in 7:13
1898: The Diamonds was won by B.H. Howell (Trinity Hall, Cambridge) in 8:29

1898: Skiff Jam at Henley Regatta, Henry Taunt -

Skiff Jam at Henley Regatta, Henry Taunt, 1898
Skiff Jam at Henley Regatta, Henry Taunt, 1898
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; HT13151

1899: The Grand was won by Leander Club in 7:12
1899: The Diamonds was won by B.H. Howell (Thames R.C.) in 8:38

Click for British Pathe Henley Regatta 1899

1899: Henley Regatta by Friedrich Stahl.

Henley Regatta by Friedrich Stahl, 1899

1899:  Henley Regatta, Francis Frith -

1899: Henley Regatta, Francis Frith
1899: Henley Regatta, Francis Frith (Above the finish, probably from Henley Bridge)

From "A Tale of Henley", a short story by Victor Whitechurch in the Strand Magazine:

Between the bridge and Regatta Island are hundreds upon hundreds of boats, punts, and canoes, a veritable carnival of colour and beauty such as can only be seen on this beautiful reach on the Thames.
Every now and then the warning bells command the clearance of the course, and the craft on either side become still more densely packed. It is no easy task to pilot ones way through the endless flotilla, and skill and patience alike are necessary.
The nose of my canoe ran into a punt.
It was not my fault.
The occupant, who was using paddles only, ought to have seen me.
"I beg your pardon, sir!"
Bang! A race had begun.
"Well rowed, Eton!"
"Go it, Leander!"
"Now then, stroke!"

The crews came by in grand style. ...
Splash, and an ugly rocking. The wake of the umpire's steam launch.

  A short story set at Henley Regatta, published in the Strand Magazine in 1899