1852 1854 1856 1857 1858 1859
BOAT RACE 1852 - 1859

Oxford University v Cambridge University


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

Crab Tree Cottage from the Steam Boat Companion (1826) -

... the landing place that presents itself above, is called CRABTREE.

The name is whimsical, and originated (as we are informed) from the following circumstance -

A wild apple-tree that grew by the Thames,
Gave name to this rustical spot;
Where [Lady Craven] quiet, unawed by the glitter of gems,
Erected her straw-cover'd cot.

She planted a woodbine, and sweetly it curl'd
Round the jas'mine its delicate mate;
And being a-far from the pomp of the world
She smil'd at the noise of the great.

In health may her tenants still culture the sod,
Ev'ry hour may their comforts increase;
Whilst subjects less happy 'neath tyranny's rod,
Are sighing for plenty and peace.

That singular thatched house, to the right of the landing-place, was built by Lady Craven, for a quiet retreat. When her ladyship had finished the building, agreeable to her taste, it was observed, in answer to one who was backward in his commendations, that she knew it to be an oddity, and if she knew there was one built like it, she would order it to be thrown down.

Mr. Walsh Porter, of celebrity, was was the next inhabitant, and many whimsical productions were by him set on foot, some carved and some painted; there was a small hedge ale-house, the sign of the Cat and Bagpipes; on the other side a Church-yard, with an hand-post, the finger pointing the way to London, and underneath the Parish Stocks; at the top of the landing-place, the resemblance of a Man-Trap, with the word over it, "Beware" ...

1850: No boat race

1851: No boat race
Oxford defeated Cambridge in the Grand at Henley, six lengths in 7m 45secs

11: 1852, Saturday, 2nd April

In 1852 OXFORD WON by six lengths in 21 minutes and 36 seconds. Oxford 4, Cambridge 7

The great Joseph Chitty (who had been at 2 and then 4 in 1849) stroked Oxford (and continued his involvement with the race, umpiring some 22 races right through to 1880).

In a strange reversal Tom Egan, who had pioneered the new amateur style for Cambridge, now coached Oxford, possibly in reaction to Cambridge deciding to revert to professional coaching.
So Cambridge began to revert to the choppier waterman's stroke and Oxford to a longer steadier stroke.

Cambridge won the toss, and chose Surrey. Shortly after the start Oxford moved into a lead, which they extended as both crews moved up to Hammersmith.
The Cambridge professional coach Coombs had instructed his crew to take the inside arch under Hammersmith Bridge and this they did. Oxford took the traditional centre arch. Cambridge lost the stream and as a result, a considerable margin by this manoeuvre, and lost the race by 27 seconds.

It is said that on this course if two equally matched boats were to race with the tide, one cox ignoring the tidal stream position and the other finding it perfectly, the difference would be something like three minutes!


 OXFORD 1852st. lb.  CAMBRIDGE 1852st. lb.
BowK Prescot10.10 BowE MacNaghten11. 0
2R Greenall10.12 2H Brandt11. 5
3P H Nind11. 2 3H E Tuckey11. 3
4R J Buller12. 4 4H B Foord12. 6
5H Denne12. 8 5E Hawley12. 5
6W Houghton11. 8 6W S Longmore11. 4
7W O Meade-King11.11 7W A Norris11. 9
StrJ W Chitty11. 7 StrF W Johnson11. 8
CoxR W Cotton 9. 2 CoxC H Crosse 9. 7

1853: No boat race.
Oxford defeated Cambridge in the Grand at Henley, 18 inches, in 8 minutes 3 seconds.

12: 1854, Saturday, 8th April

In 1854 OXFORD WON by 27 seconds. Time 25 minutes 29 seconds. Oxford 5, Cambridge 7

Arthur Shadwell and Joseph Chitty organised Oxford's training well.
Cambridge had problems with dates and minor illnesses. Tom Egan returned as coach and non-rowing president.

Oxford won the toss and chose Middlesex. Both crews went off well and for the first minute or so they were level, but then, with the Fulham bend in their favour Oxford moved ahead strongly.
But after Craven Steps, the Light Blues fought back and pulled Oxford back to a lead of about half a length and by the Crab Tree seemed to have run out of steam for, as they moved further up the Crab Tree reach, Oxford moved further ahead again.
Cambridge cannot have been helped in this period for it was only by superb steering by Charles Smith, the Cambridge cox that they avoided a barge on the approach to Hammersmith Bridge.
At the Bridge, Oxford were at least ahead and they moved on steadily thereafter to cross the finish 27 seconds ahead of Cambridge.

In 1854 the tide turned when the crews were about Chiswick. Corney Reach and the Mortlake Reach were both rowed against the start of the ebb tide.

 OXFORD 1854st. lb.  CAMBRIDGE 1854st. lb.
BowW F Short10. 5 BowR C Galton10. 2
2A Hooke11. 0 2S Nairne10. 2
3W Pinckney11. 2 3J C Davis11. 1
4T H Blundell11. 8 4S A Agnew10.12
5T A Hooper11. 5 5E Courage11.13
6P H Nind10.12 6H F Johnson10.13
7G L Mellish11. 2 7H Blake11. 1
StrW O Meade-King11. 8 StrJ Wright10. 2
CoxT H Marshall10. 3 CoxC T Smith 9.12

1855: No boat race. The weather was so cold in the spring that a great frost froze the river. In preventing any training - and probably in its psychological effects - it made any thought of a boat race around Easter impossible.

Thames Frozen, Feb 1855
The Thames Frozen in February 1855

Cambridge beat Oxford in the Grand at Henley. 2 1/2 lengths in 8 minutes 32 seconds.

13: 1856, Saturday, 15th March

In 1856 CAMBRIDGE WON by half a length. Time 25 minutes 50 seconds. Oxford 5, Cambridge 8
The course was rowed downstream on the ebb tide from Mortlake to Putney.

One of the reasons may have been that in 1856 works were in hand to build Putney Aqueduct at the very start of the usual course, upstream of Putney Bridge -

Putney Bridge
Putney Bridge & Aqueduct seen in 1880

The start at 11am was from just below Barker's Rails, just over half a mile above the Ship Inn at Mortlake, with Cambridge having won the toss and chosen the Middlesex station on a stormy morning.

William MacMichael, writing in 1870, described the 1856 race -

At the Ship Inn, Oxford were no more than a few feet ahead when an extra large wave caught the oar of number six in the Cambridge boat wresting it from his hands and almost bringing matters to an untimely end. In fact Mr McCormick had caught such an immense shell fish [crab!] that its weight overpowered him and he fell back in Mr Williams lap; who with great politeness and presence of mind restored his oar to him and him to his seat.
Fully roused by this accident which cost them nearly a boat’s length, Cambridge put in a spurt which has seldom been witnessed, so that by Barnes Bridge they had not only gained back all they had lost, but had pushed their bow a yard or two in front, which lead they gradually increased to half a length.
Thus they continued escaping the dangers of many sailing barges and other craft by the most marvellous steering on the part of both [coxes], but more especially on that of Mr Wingfield [William Wingfield, the cox of Cambridge], whose difficulties at this point were greater than those of his antagonist.
He was called upon to decide whether he could get between the bank and a barge which was going head on to it – those only who have been similarly circumstanced can judge of the nerve and prompt decision required – the man on board the lighter did all in his power to assist by throwing out a sweep [long oar] ahead and stopping her way as much as possible and the Cambridge boat just cleared through.
Not much less in its degree was the promptitude required and displayed by Mr Elers [Frederick Elers the Oxford cox] who, now in the middle of the river and going astern of the same lighter, had every prospect of being jammed into her by a sailing barge that was standing over to that shore.
The nose of the Oxford boat was already sheered a bit over towards the Surrey side preparing to go astern, when suddenly the barge was put about and no sooner did the quick eye perceive a shake in her sails than he put his ship straight and these dangers were cleverly surmounted.

But then it was a very close finish with Cambridge winning by only half a length.

 OXFORD 1856st. lb.  CAMBRIDGE 1856st. lb.
BowP Gurdon10. 8 BowJ P King-Salter 9.13
2W F Stocken10. 1 2F C Alderson11. 3
3R I Salmon10.10 3R Lewis-Lloyd11.12
4A B Rocke12. 8 4E H Fairrie12.10
5R N Townsend12. 8 5H Williams12. 8
6A P Heywood-Lonsdale11. 4 6J McCormick13. 0
7G Bennett10.10 7H Snow11. 8
StrJ T Thorley 9.12 StrH R M Jones10. 7
CoxF W Elers 9. 2 CoxW Wingfield 9. 0

14: 1857,Saturday, 4th April

In 1857 OXFORD WON by 32 seconds. 22 minutes and 35 seconds. Oxford 6, Cambridge 8

It is said that Oxford had the best boat and were certainly favourites putting in a course time of 19 minutes 30 seconds in training, which record stood some 16 years until sliding seats came in. For the first time the boat race was rowed in keelless boats.

Oxford won the toss and chose Middlesex. The tide was only moderate and the start was delayed by steamers. Oxford went away fast off the start and rowed right away from their rivals, converting the event into a procession from the first minute, for Cambridge never came back into contention.
The tide turned when Oxford had reached Chiswick Eyot and was against them for the last part of the course and this explains the much slower course time than had been achieved in training.

 OXFORD 1857st. lb.  CAMBRIDGE 1857st. lb.
BowR W Risley11. 3 BowA P Holme11. 8
2P Gurdon11. 0 2A Benn11. 5
3J Arkell10.12 3W H Holley11. 8
4R Martin12. 1 4A L Smith11. 2
5W H Wood11.13 5J J Serjeantson12. 4
6E Warre12. 3 6R Lewis-Lloyd11.11
7A P Heywood-Lonsdale12. 0 7P P Pearson11. 4
StrJ T Thorley10. 1 StrH Snow11. 8
CoxF W Elers 9. 2 CoxR Wharton 9. 2

The Revd Edmund Warre DD, Oxford 6
Headmaster of Eton. Seen in 1885

15: 1858, Saturday 27th March

In 1858 CAMBRIDGE WON by 22 seconds in 21 minutes 23 seconds. Oxford 6, Cambridge 9

Cambridge won the toss and chose the Middlesex station. The Race had hardly started when one of the steamers had strayed too close to the Oxford boat and whether as the result of the swell that was created or by direct contact with the boat or the blade, a thole pin of the Oxford stroke, Thorley became gossly distorted and he caught a really bad crab. Not only did this result in Thorley being cascaded back into 7, and the boat coming to a complete standstill, but the misshapen thole pin must have made it virtually impossible for Thorley to strike anything like a reasonable stroke for the rest of the race.
However the immediate effect was not to be so disastrous to Oxford as it might have been. Cambridge went slightly into the lead, but almost immediately their port oars struck a barge which lay at anchor straight in their course and by the time this had been sorted out, they were again level with Oxford.
Both crews continued rowing despite these difficulties, though their technique was sorely affected and their progress slow as the progressed up the Crab Tree reach side by side. When they reached the Crab Tree, the wind was not coming from quite so dead ahead, Cambridge put in a spurt and rowing in much more like their normal style of the long powerful strokes, moved rapidly ahead of their rivals.

Cambridge passed under Hammersmith Bridge about 1½ lengths ahead ... 1858

Cambridge passed under Hammersmith Bridge about 1½ lengths ahead and continued to row strongly along Chiswick reach gaining on Oxford steadily all the while eventually passing the finish some 7 lengths ahead.

 OXFORD 1858st. lb.  CAMBRIDGE 1858st. lb.
BowR W Risley11. 3 BowH H Lubbock11. 4
2J Arkell11. 3 2A L Smith11. 4
3C G Lane11.10 3W J Havart11. 4
4W G G Austin12. 7 4D Darroch12. 1
5E Lane11.10 5H Williams12. 4
6W H Wood12. 0 6R Lewis-Lloyd11.13
7E Warre13. 2 7A H Fairbairn11.12
StrJ T Thorley10. 3 StrJ Hall10. 7
CoxH S Walpole 9. 5 CoxR Wharton 9. 2

16: 1859, Friday 15th April

In 1859 OXFORD WON. Cambridge sank. Time 24 minutes 40 seconds. Oxford 7, Cambridge 9

The Times -

It is not perhaps too much, even though we are speaking of London weather and Thames squalls, when we say that it would not have been easy to pitch on a more unfavourable day for an eight oared race than yesterday proved. The wind blew violently in raw gusty squalls from the north-west and raised an amount of broken water when it met the tide, that boded very ill indeed for the safety of the light racing cutters. The day too was intensely cold and every half hour was varied by a heavy storm of hail and snow.

Bell's Life said of the 1859 boat race -

No less than fourteen steamboats assembled to witness the race, all crowded with spectators, and the number along the shore, both pedestrian and equestrian, was very great. Small boats there were few or none, as no one seemed to be so hardy as the crews ...
Although the betting was 3 to 1 on Cambridge, good judges felt sure that the Cambridge boat would never live through the surf which was rolling.
The start took place at exactly one o’clock. A complete sea was on at the time, although it had just previously lulled, leading the spectators to hope the crews would yet start in smooth water, but as they got to their stations a furious squall of snow and wind speedily dispelled the hope. Oxford were on the Middlesex side, and Cambridge one buttress removed from them.
The start was level, and it was a splendid neck and neck race for 100 yards.
Here Oxford drew about a yard in advance and the water began to rush in torrents into the extremely frail bark which carried the Cantabs. This, as may be supposed, did not help them in their pace, and they were stern by about half their boat opposite Searle’s.
Oxford continued to gain slightly, and were one clear length ahead at Rose Cottage. Here there was such a sea on that Mr. Hall [the Cambridge stroke] had his oar completely washed from his hand, but recovering it again in a moment, the race was continued with as much courage as before, the Cantabs pulling after their opponents in the most plucky manner, but losing ground at almost every stroke, till they reached Hammersmith Bridge, where there were nearly three lengths astern.
[The Steamer] Citizen J had several times come very near Cambridge, although repeatedly cautioned, and the screw Jackal again and again gave the Cantabs their wash.
The Oxonians reached the bridge in ten minutes, and directly after Cambridge had gone through, Citizen J (chartered by Searle), in a most reprehensible manner, went right ahead of them, and much discomposed them.
At the Waterworks there was nearly five lengths between the boats, both crews taking about thirty-eight strokes per minute, but although Cambridge was by this time almost full of water, they rapidly decreased the gap towards the end of Corney Reach, where the rowing of the whole crew was most beautiful and finished, while Oxford was keeping on in the same steady, workmanlike stroke.
At Barnes they were only two lengths in advance, and the time from starting was 20 minutes 50 seconds.
At this point the steamers that misbehaved themselves were the Jackal, Citizen L, a private boat, Citizen J, the Jupiter, chartered by Mr. Searle, and Citizen K, by Salter and Kelly, all of which were several times ahead of the Cantabs, who were still rowing very well, but it was all over.
The bow-oar had been frequently covered with water, and opposite the White Hart at Barnes three waves washed completely over the boat: at the first warning the gallant crew, knowing what was coming, took their feet out of the stretcher straps and prepared for swimming, all except Mr. Smith, who had not learnt the art. At the fourth wave the boat sank completely under them, and it was almost a miracle they were not drowned, for the umpire’s boat, the Lady of the Lake, was close on their stern at the time; but the captain, in a very clever manner, immediately stopped his vessel, and life buoys and ropes were immediately thrown out. Mr. Darroch [No. 4] swam on shore, and all the others were fortunately picked up by various boats.
The Oxonians were about three lengths ahead at the time, and probably accomplished the distance in 24 minutes 30 seconds, although they were so far ahead at the finish that the time could not be accurately taken.

The Cam is intrinsically more sheltered than the river at Oxford. A storm on the Cam rarely does more than inconvenience and soak a good eight. So though neither place can specialise in Tideway conditions it might be that Oxford starts with slightly more experience of rough water (and appreciation of the sort of boat that might cope with it). Of course this may be entirely changed by where they choose to train.

Cambridge, First Trinity Boat Club minutes recorded of the 1859 boat race-

In going up to the Starting Post the Cambridge Boat had nearly filled with water, and at the start it was known by her crew that she could not live through the race, and so perhaps the finest crew that ever left the University was beaten by a comparatively very inferior one owing to rowing in too low a boat on a rough day.

 OXFORD 1859st. lb.  CAMBRIDGE 1859st. lb.
BowH F Baxter10.12 BowN Royds10.13
2R F Clarke11.13 2H J Chaytor10.13
3C G Lane11.10 3A L Smith11.11
4Hon V Lawless12. 3 4D Darroch12. 4
5G Morrison13. 1 5H Williams12. 6
6R W Risley11. 2 6R Lewis-Lloyd11. 9
7G G T Thomas11. 4 7G A Paley11. 7
StrJ Arkell10.12 StrJ Hall10. 2
CoxA J Roberts 9. 1 CoxJ T Morland 9. 0

Click for Hammersmith Bridge  
Boat race in 1860s