The International Boatrace on the Thames, 27th August, 1869
1869: HARPER's NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE, Volume XL
THE UNIVERSITY ROWING MATCH by William Blaikie -
Skip long introduction and go start!
MUCH has been said of late in the journals of both our country and England on this engrossing topic,
and though the statements daily made and re-made have been tolerably correct,
the instances in which mistakes often of a glaring nature have accompanied them
have justified the writer in believing that, from the unequalled facilities he has had for judging,
he can offer a narrative somewhat nearer the truth.
It was his good fortune to accompany, as their secretary, the little party who so daringly met the enemy on their own vantage ground, and he hence feels hopeful that he can at least put the story in the light in which it is regarded by the actors themselves, however partial that may be.
A brief recapitulation of the history of rowing in the two universities in question will not be out of place here. Oxford has met Cambridge in friendly struggle, in eight-oared boats alone, during the last forty years, twenty-six times, and in these she has sixteen times crossed the line a winner. And of six more meetings, not strictly annual, she has four times won the prize. Twenty-four years ago, in 1845, this very course from Putney to Mortlake was for the first time the scene of the contest, and then Cambridge was first at the score. Never but once, and then in 1829, was a shorter distance rowed over, and that year it was the Henley track, of less than a mile and a half in length. Of the 511 men who have had the honor of a thwart in their "'Varsity" boat, a boon often dearer to them than even a "Double First" in scholarship, many have been well known in after-life; and Oxford knew no fitter honor for one of them one who, in being Captain of the 'Varsity crew, and a winning stroke at that in being Captain of the University Eleven at cricket, and in taking a Double First (the highest honor in both the Mathematical and Classical Departments), has made himself thrice justly famous than to elect him her umpire and representative in this last and most important of her naval battles. I need only give his name: Thomas Hughes.
Thomas Hughes MP, Umpire
On the other hand, Harvard, though blessed with a boat club so long ago as 1844, met her sister institution,
Yale, for the first time so late as 1852; and warm was the welcome she gave her men
on a bright summer afternoon of that year, when they showed themselves in advance at the finish
on beautiful Lake Winnipiseogee. Since that day they have backed up to the line together twelve times,
and at the end Harvard has led in eight, or, if the regularly arranged inter-collegiate regattas
alone are mentioned, out of eleven in all, she has won seven.
So, though the discrepancy in the records of the English universities is great, it is larger yet in our own.
Here, then, were the winners of the most important gentlemanly athletic matches in both countries, often eyeing each other, and each hoping that the other would first throw down the gauntlet, that they might show how quickly they would take it up. "Why hesitate longer? Why not lead off?" says the younger; and casting about for an opportunity, she found it in the International Regattas in connection with the Paris Exposition, thrown open to all the world, in the middle of June, 1867. Oxford would surely be there, most likely Cambridge. The London Rowing Club had entered the champion amateurs of England; France was to be represented; so was Holland and Germany; and, last in the estimation of the knowing ones, though first in the race, the champion rowers of the world, the St. John crew of New Brunswick. Well, the effort was made, and only because out of eight necessary to man her boat she could muster but seven whom she could justly deem competent to represent her, Harvard was forced reluctantly to remain at home.
In 1868 the question came up again. Harvard had her fastest team, why not use it now? A correspondence was opened for a direct match with Oxford on English waters, and after a proposition to meet them on the river Ouse at King's Lynn was made and declined, because Oxford would not row without a coxswain, nor permit Harvard to, a challenge was sent to row a race with coxswains but not till over a year later that is, in the summer of 1869. This too was declined, because this year's crew could not vouch for what that of next might do. So negotiations were dropped, apparently with little prospect of being soon reopened. Last spring, however, the Captain, Mr. Simmons, thought that he had men in Messrs. Rice and Bass quite fit to pull the midship oars, if Mr. Loring, the stroke of the crew of 1867, who had not intended to row this year, would change his mind; and the latter consenting to do this, the following cartel was at once forwarded to England:
Cambridge, Massachusetts, April 6,1869.
To the President of the Oxford University Boat Club:
The undersigned, in behalf of the Harvard University Boat Club, hereby challenges the Oxford University Boat Club to row a race in outrigger boats from Putney to Mortlake, some time between the middle of August and the 1st of September, 1869, each boat to carry four rowers and a coxswain. The exact time to be agreed upon at a meeting of the crews. This challenge to remain open for acceptance one week after date of reception.
William H. Simmons, Capt. H. U. B. C.
It will be observed that by the terms of this letter not an eight-oared contest was requested, as in the previous cases, but a four; and as Oxford had about 2000 students and Cambridge 2500 from whom to cull eight, while Harvard could boast of but 1100, the latter clearly lost nothing by the change. The place of meeting was one with which the English were intimately acquainted, while entirely new to our men; so was the fashion of steering, namely, by carrying a coxswain. But why yield points so vital? Because without them there could be no match. Last year's interviews had proved this. Was a match at present, then, so desirable, and would not the English be inclined to yield in a few years? Scarcely the latter, judging from their constitutional fondness for precedents and dislike of innovations. And as to the former, this was plain, that Messrs. Simmons and Loring, when in their best condition, could better represent their university than any other two she had perhaps ever had or was likely soon to have; and as they were graduating this year, their services must be had now or never.
So the challenge was forwarded; and as it could hardly be regarded as any thing short of a slight to confine it to Oxford alone, and, moreover, as Harvard would not be likely to injure her chances by asking in a crew picked from one already beaten by the latter, a like invitation was at the same time mailed to Cambridge.
Promptly came Oxford's ready acceptance.
[ It wasn't quite as simple as Harper's Magazine assumed:
J C Tinne said - When the challenge came from Harvard, it was necessary for me to call a meeting, to ask consent of the O.U.B.C. to accept the challenge, because there was a lex non scripta [unwritten rule] that the O.U.B.C. was formed only to row against Cambridge. The voting resulted in 10 AYES, 10 NOES. It was then noticed that no representative of Oriel College was present, so we sent for one, and the voting resulted in 11 AYES, 10 NOES. Next day a newspaper reported that the challenge was accepted unanimously! ]
More tardy was the word from Cambridge, and at the best it amounted to but a conditional acceptance. She hoped she could raise a crew, but, having lost some of her best men, doubted it, and would like to await the result of her spring races. Of course this was granted. But never till after our men actually arrived in England did further word come, and then, that the challenge came late, her crew was more or less broken up, and she must decline. Her representative was told that it seemed to us remarkably strange that a challenge arriving two months before the close of her term should be called late; and yet more so, that out of a body of 2500 men, hundreds of them more or less acquainted with rowing, four could not be found to match the representatives of an institution having hardly threescore men who knew how to feather an oar.
Directly on the heels of Oxford's manly reponse came the challenge of the champion amateurs of all England, the London Rowing Club. The four gentlemen who man their boat in the accompanying sketch, Messrs Stout, Long, Gulston and Ryan, are almost masters of their art, and well might their club say, as it did, that, should we be so fortunate as to defeat Oxford, we might, by claiming to have beaten England's champion gentlemen rowers, thus prejudice their own deserved claim to that title.
Picked Crew of the London Rowing Club
They stating this, asked us to row them an eight-oared, four, pair, and single scull race, or either [any] of them;
that whether we accepted or no we would at least share with them their boat-houses and club-rooms,
and use their boats. Finally our whole party were by this letter at once made honorary members of their club.
A challenge so manly, so courteous, could not pass unnoticed, and most reluctantly were our men forced to decline it, and for this reason: no Harvard crew ever yet rowed a match race with any crew except one composed of students, nor ever would; and because, if they did once, a precedent was established that it would be bnearly impossible not to follow, and then they would always be in danger of being called on to row in term time, which course would so interrupt their studies as to invite the interference of the college faculty. But though declining to row the gallant Londoners, they accepted their most generous proffer of hospitality; and all the time they were in England it stood them in right good stead, for the attention of the former to our wants was most considerate and assiduous.
The Boathouse of the London Rowing Club
Harvard, then, was to row Oxford on some day between the middle and end of August.
This margin was given so that if one day did not suit another would, and yet be within the terms stipulated.
It turned out well that it was so,as, had the day been set as originally anticipated, our crew would have been to raw at their work to have been in condition to row a hard race.
The Oxford men went into training as a crew on the 19th of May, and they seldom allowed a day to pass without their regular rows. The crew Harvard actually had to represent he had been together about three weeks; although had, as she expected, Messrs Rice and Bass been so well up to their work as to be of the chosen four, hers would have been together since late in April a month longer than their rivals.
An English four-oared boat, with coxswain's seat, built by Jewitt a dozen years ago, was first used for practice by our men, but soon getting leaky and worn out, a new one by Elliott, of Greenpoint, New York, was substituted.
On the 15th of June Messrs. Loring, Simmons, Rice, and Bass, with Arthur Burnham for their coxswain, rowed their first race, and defeating the Hurley crew of Boston, were beaten two lengths by the George Roahr, the fastest professional crew of the same city. Mr. Simmons was then rowing stroke, and Mr. Loring bow. Two days later, at a regatta on the Mystic, near Charlestown, Massachusetts, the same crew, without their coxswain, having borrowed the four-oared shell of the Union Boat Club of Worcester, defeated the victors of the previous race with great ease by some fourteen lengths, the distance being four miles.
Boston, with a liberality that has done much to keep aquatic sport on her waters unequaled for fairness or interest by that of any other city in the Union, gave in her Annual City Regatta of July 5 (ordinarily the 4th) an almost unprecedentedly large prize for four-oared boats, the effect of which course was to bring out a list of entries that included such crews as that of the Hamills of Pittsburg, the swiftest four west of the Alleghanies, the ex-champion himself pulling an oar; the Biglins of New York, often a winning crew: the Piscataquas of Elliot, Maine; the Unions of Worcester; the George Roahr of Boston again, and others less famous. Harvard won the race with ease.
Harvard "stock" which, at first low, had been going up steadily was now at par, and the betting began to be even on the Americans in the forthcoming inter-university race. Meanwhile the papers had taken up the contest, and Harvard was booked to have no chance to win. British fair play was flung in her ears, the mistake being that the specimen quoted was always the Heanan and Savers fight. If we were io judge America's character for fair play by the conduct of her prize-fighters and professionals, perhaps the less said about that desirable element the better. The fact is, with the exception of the race in which the yacht America gave so good an account of herself, sporting matches between gentlemen of the two countries have hardly ever taken place.
The English universities, too, had so many men to pick from that Harvard must go to the wall. But we may always pertinently ask in this connection, "What good did Cambridge's 2500 do her in the hour of need?" One well known American correspondent, who had always, in his letters from England, prophesied most hollow defeat for his countrymen, used to tell us that "Harvard must be prepared to find the contest they propose considered as an incomplete trial of strength", for the reason that "a good eight is the culmination of all the science and art there is in rowing", and hence that a four is not a sufficient test. But this remark hardly seems of much value now. Harvard, too, would have to change her whole style of rowing, in order to suit "the turbid, muddy, chemical mixture of the Thames". We have seen no such change.
Much else was said that might better have been omitted. Even the men who were managing the Harvard College fortnightly, The Advocate, must needs oppose the project by ventilating their individual views, and gravely informing the public that "the interest in boating at Harvard is on the decline", though when a crew which could be mustered, that she supposed was without her four best men, could send in so good a record as her six has this year from Quinsigamond, the ground for such a remark must be seen to be slight.
On the other hand, the English press were glad that our men were coming; were much moved by the uncalled for remarks of our papers on the chances of fair play; and while thoroughly confident that their own men would render a good account of themselves when the day came, could not overestimate the courage and generosity of Harvard in being willing to come so far, and in the face of such difficulties.
Private theatricals given by Harvard students, and subscriptions from wealthy Harvard men and their friends, soon raised the requisite money. Elliott had thus far succeeded best with his models in this country; but, to leave no stone unturned, an Englishman lately arrived, holding himself out as a crack builder, was also tried. A boat, from each accompanied the crew, who sailed from New York in the Inman steamer City of Paris, on the 10th of July. The Nassau Boat Club of New York vied with the other clubs of that city in a most friendly send-off, bidding them God-speed.
After a most enjoyable trip, with very little sea-sickness, obliging officers, and a short run, they reached Liverpool on the 20th, where they were met by representatives of the Liverpool and Chester clubs, inviting them to put in at least a day with them. They got forward at once to Putney, the most thorough arrangements having been made by Stanton Blake, Esq., of New York city, for their conveyance over the London and Northwestern and Southwestern railways, free of any expense, special cars on the former and engine on the latter being placed at their service.
Arriving at Putney their boats were at once carried to the boat-houses of the London Rowing Club, and the men disappointed in procuring a house they had hired, by the landlord, at the eleventh hour, declining to let it for so short a period as they wanted it put up temporarily at a little inn known as the Star and Garter.
In five days, by the united efforts of the London Rowing Club men and themselves, a most suitable and comfortable dwelling, rejoicing in the high-sounding title (to Americans, at least) of the "White House", was secured; and it was well worth waiting for.
With an acre of garden and a high wall about it, they were now most eligibly located,
the river being within twenty feet of the garden gate, and the boathouses not a stone's-throw off.
Great was the curiosity the little party excited at Putney. Every man of it was watched with most eager eyes. While at the Star and Garter, particularly, the door could not stand ajar but a dozen would be peeping in to see the bold strangers.
George, our colored boy, a most useful attendant, was questioned
and cross-questioned on all manner of matters concerning the crew, but his wit was equal to the emergency.
Mr. E. Brown, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, had come along to cook, and that fact itself
guaranteed all that could be desired in a culinary way.
The house just accommodated the rowers, two gentlemen who accompanied the crew, Elliott, and the servants.
For the first ten days the change of climate manifested itself in a looseness of the joints and a lack of the springiness and activity one felt at home. The heavy damp air of England, made more so in this instance by the river close by, would cause some of the men to hack and cough a little on rising in the morning, even though they did not feel at all cold. Still these effects soon wore away, only influencing the race itself by deciding Mr. Loring to arrange that it should be rowed on the 27th instead of the 16th. The two men who came last, however, Messrs. Fay and Lyman, thus had but about ten days in all in which they were entirely themselves.
The Harvard Crew - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - The Oxford Crew
The Elliott Boat
The Elliott boat had hardly been put into the water till it began to get soundly rapped by the papers.
It was a beautiful specimen of cabinet-work certainly, but much too long.
All such models had long since been discarded in England, etc., etc.
The facts about it were these: Elliott had very clearly defined notions as to what his best models had been.
But he had lately become much impressed with the idea of very long and narrow models,
with a small cross-midship section; and his views were too readily indorsed by the men themselves.
The one he had built for practice, and in which they were beaten on the I5th of June,
was 52 feet 6 inches long longer than his ordinary six oars, and only 19 inches wide.
The one they took with them, finished only the day before they sailed, and tried but once,
was 49 feet long and 18 inches wide, while 42 feet long by 20 inches wide are the usual English measurements.
The first "buckled", that is, sagged in the middle fearfully at every stroke.
The second, stronger and shorter, did so less, but still too much.
Elliott took with him in his trunk the model and all the ribs of a new boat, built, not on the long and narrow plan, but on exactly the lines of his most successful boat, that in which Harvard defeated Yale in 1807, 1868, and 1869. He had not seen the river itself and the best English models half an hour before he was convinced that the shorter craft would be best suited for the work. Instead of the tide rising and falling 10 feet, as on the Charles, it reaches 18 and 20 on the Thames, and as the average width from Putney to Mortlake is not much over 600 feet, it will be seen at once that a bed so narrow and deep, as well as quite crooked, most cause innumerable little swirls, and these switched a long boat about much more than they did a shorter one, as a single trial of one of the latter belonging to the London Rowing Club soon showed. No man could have been more confident than Elliott that he could beat the English models. Hiring two young fellows to help him, working thirteen hours a day himself, he succeeded, five days before the race, in turning out his boat.
Not convinced that the fastest American would necessarily be the fastest craft possible, Messrs. J. and S. Salter, of Oxford, had been instructed to build their very swiftest boat. They were chosen, because both Oxford and Cambridge had used their boats only in the 'Varsity races for years, and therefore theirs were supposed by us to be the best. But the London Rowing Club men, while admitting the advantages of Messrs. Salters' "eights", said that their four's were too strong and heavy, and not so fast as those of Jewitt and Clasper. Arrangements were at once made with the latter by which each was for a reasonable consideration to build his very best boat, and our men were to be the sole judges of their quality, adopting any plan of testing their speed that they themselves might see fit whichever proved fastest to be paid for at the usual rates. They stated, however, that though they would much prefer to use an American-built boat, they certainly would not do so if they could obtain any other manifestly faster. Messrs. E. Searle and Sons tendered one of theirs free of expense, so that thus they had seven boats from which to choose the two they brought with them, the Salter, Jewitt, Clasper, and Searle models, and the new Elliott.
Frequent trials decided them to take the latter, she once going from Putney Aqueduct to Bishop's Creek in seven seconds less than either of the others. If Elliott could wish a triumph made more sure he had his desire granted when the Rev. Mr. Risley, an old Oxford 'Varsity oar, told the writer that he had hoped our men would discard the new boat so that his might use her, or when the Rev. Mr. Shadwell, himself one of Oxford's most noted stroke oars, and one of the first connoisseurs of shell boats in Europe, complimented her as one of the best boats he ever saw. Mr. Elliott, then, has proved himself the champion shell-boat builder of the world, and well does he deserve the title. His superior knowledge of his art was often displayed. No one of the English builders ever knew the weight of his own boat. He always did. Each seemed to have found what he regarded as a good model, and to have built on that alone.
Quite ready to admit the good qualities of the other boats, Elliott always wanted to know if they could not be improved, and his mind, never at rest, has shown the wisdom of his plan. In substituting the light Maine hackmatack for the heavy white oak, of which the knees of all the English boats were made, he gained too a material reduction of weight, yet without loss of necessary strength. Forty-four feet long, twenty-one and a half inches wide, and eight inches deep, the new boat, while light and fast, was very roomy and comfortable.
The amount of work taken by the men for the first two weeks was, from the indisposition referred to, comparatively small in fact, so much so as to awaken serious apprehensions among the friends of the crew and interested lookers-on as to whether they were training with sufficient severity. The newspapers spoke of it in terms not always doubtful in their meaning. We were told daily how busy the Oxford men were, and rather suffered by the comparison. But as the time began to approach, and the new men to get accustomed to their places, the daily labor was much increased, and now the press pronounced them very gluttons of work. The stroke, with which much fault had been found as being too short, with a dip too deep, was becoming longer and shallower. Their speed, though not complimented when they rowed with the tide, was very much thought of when against stream; in short, was considered faster than Oxford would show. This was perhaps owing to the fact that against the tide the headway of the boat is more suddenly retarded between strokes than when going with the stream; and hence, as Harvard rowed more strokes a minute, the delays were less protracted.
About two weeks before the race the Oxford men left Pangborne, some eighty miles up the river, where they had been busily practicing in strict seclusion, and came directly to Putney. One disadvantage which it was freely admitted that our men labored under was that of being constantly under the surveillance of an interested crowd, on the tow-path, and in the passing steamers. On the very first day the two crews showed at Putney the people were out by hundreds attempting to judge of their respective merits. Every evening until the contest each train brought, from London a generous delegation, and even in the morning row it was often difficult to launch the boat, so numerous were the by-standers. Always goodnatured, frequently expressing their admiration at the well-developed, sun-browned arms of the strangers, they would seldom cause the latter any considerable inconvenience, and never intentionally. Daily, almost hourly, would the wish be heard expressed that the Americans might win, and if the Englishman who said so was asked why he thus opposed his countrymen, he replied in terms highly flattering to the pluck and daring of their rivals. Seldom did the boat go out or come in without more or less applause from the bank, and often it was very general. Well-mounted equestrians upon the towingpath kept level with the crew and timed their every stroke.
The boating correspondent of the Times, Mr. Brickwood, was most regular in thus accompanying them, and every word he let fall soon found its way into some less important sheet. The other reporters were on hand. They would button-hole you at every corner. They knew what our men fed on better than they did themselves. They discovered new facts every day. They had most varied explanations of every stop and every start of the crew.
Letters, too, from other parties would crop out occasionally. "A Disappointed Oarsman" had expected an American style, an American boat, American oars, and learning suddenly that he would see none, had concluded that they were nothing better than two Thames crews. Some friendly Englishman took up the cudgels, and wanted to know if he regarded the Oxford and Cambridge as two Thames crews, though they each used an English boat, oars, and style on the Thames.
The fact was that the Harvard men did substantially without a "coach" or instructor, simply because they thought that so late in the day they had better hold to a method with which they were well acquainted than half learn another, even though the latter was preferable. As the result proved, the crew did row an American boat, were coached on the American plan, and would have been only too glad, even at the eleventh hour, to have dropped their coxswain and shown the true American style of rowing. Carrying one hundred and five pounds of coxswain of course decreased the number of strokes per minute. Without him each man had to carry his own weight, his oar's, and a quarter of the boat's. With him each had his own, his oar's, a quarter of the coxswain's, and not a quarter of a boat sufficiently large to carry four men, but one for five. A one-hundredand-fifty-five-pound man, then, carried about thirty-five-pounds of boat, eight of oar, and twenty-six of steersman, making his burden thus about two hundred and twenty-four pounds, against only about one hundred and ninety without. So that the forty-six strokes rowed the first minute of the race were quite as difficult as the fifty shown in the start last year, or this, at Worcester.
The difference between the Oxford and Harvard "style" or manner of rowing was very marked. The former sat up almost painfully straight, and reaching well forward, though quite slow in getting there, seemed to hang for a moment to balance their oars for a hit at the water. Then, instead of dropping it at once and vertically into the water, they appeared to pull it in the air, or, to use the technical phrase, "clip" the beginning of their stroke. The moment the oar-blade touched the water they strove to throw almost their entire weight against the stretcher or foot-board, and to do all the pulling they could in the first third of the arc described by the blade in the water. This is very trying on the legs at first, though one gets accustomed to it. It is claimed that striking the water so sharply renders it a solider fulcrum than it is when the oar pushes against it more slowly. The blades of the Oxford oars were five inches wide in the widest place of ours five and a half; yet their sudden smite caught the water very firmly. Dipping barely deep enough to cover the blades, they retained their arms straight until their bodies sloped back past the perpendicular, and till they formed an angle of fifty degrees with the boat's gunwale. Then dropping their hands against their lower ribs, they commenced another similar stroke. All sat up to the side of the boat farthest from the oar-blade.
The Harvard men all sat in the middle, and had longer outriggers proportionately, a trifling increase of weight, but a marked one of steadiness. They did not seem to be trying to look so grand as their rivals. Their backs, less straight, were more natural, though not round. They thrust their hands forward very quickly from their bodies, and reached further over their toes than their antagonists. They aimed to pull every part of the stroke equally hard at least threw less weight upon the beginning. The arms were called into play more in finishing up the stroke, and the rebound from the body was much swifter. They swung their bodies back past the perpendicular less far than the others, hence appearing to droop more over the oar-handle just as it was against the body. Their dip, too, was deeper, though quite shoal. The bucketful or more of water that each oar sent aft would manifestly be detrimental to a narrow boat following closely. The stately appearance of the Oxford rowing, though very noticeable in the first mile, was often less marked in the third or fourth; and Mr. Charles Reade as his letter to the Tribune shows detected this in the race itself; while the same writer observed greater uniformity in the Harvard rowing throughout the entire distance as had been the case, by-the-way, almost always during their practice.
During the week of the contest the number of visitors at the White House largely increased some days reaching as high as forty. The crew were so taken up with their training that they had little time or disposition to meet these people, so that this work devolved on the rest of the party. Among those calling were many well known on both sides of the water. Thomas Hughes, M.P., Sir Charles Dilke, M.P., Charles Reade, Mrs. Goldschmidt (née Jenny Lind), Mr. Moran, Secretary of the American Legation, General Badeau, Mr. Morse, the American Consul at London, Hon. Thomas H. Dudley, the American Consul at Liverpool, prominent bankers, eminent lawyers and literary men, and many Americans who had been traveling on the Continent, and had come up purposely to see the race.
As the course to be rowed the best-known rowing-track in the world, from Putney to Mortlake, on the Thames was only four miles out of London, and as all the papers agreed that the number of spectators would be unprecedentedly great, the danger of obstruction to the contestants plainly demanded much attention. In fact, the two chief dangers that seemed to threaten our men from outside sources were, tampering with what they ate or drank before, and interference in the race itself. The former was guarded against with great care for ten days beforehand, by having a double allowance of food and drink coming into the house, one through the regular channels, the other by secret means and the hands of Harvard men only. Though the suspicion was day by day materially reduced, the feeling still was that we should be very much chagrined if drugging the food, or any thing else in our power to foresee, was not prevented. The men with whom we were to row, or their friends, we never thought of mistrusting. It was only the tools of betting men whom we had reason to fear.
As to clearing the course, in the annual 'Varsity races, an attempt is made to do this by the Conservators of the Thames, a board of gentlemen whose title suggests their duties. Until the danger to life became so great that within two years Parliament passed an act giving them supreme control of the river from Putney to Mortlake on the day of a great race, they had been almost powerless to carry out their purposes, but since that time had succeeded comparatively well. They met representatives of both crews at Putney; and as all agreed that the match was strictly a private one, and one which the public had no actual right to see, it being quite easy to pull it late in the evening or early in the morning, and without notifying them, the Conservancy Board were ready to undertake to keep the course entirely clear if the people might be allowed to view the contest. We insisted that no steamers be permitted on the river from the start to the finish, except one for the umpires and referee, and one for the press; and so admirably were their plans carried out that, with the exception of the two above named, and two others which were anchored near the finish, with two policemen over the captain of each to arrest him the moment his paddle-wheels moved (all the Thames steamers are side-wheelers), not a steamer was seen on the whole course. Long strings of barges and lighters were moored about one-third of the way from shore out in the river, and parallel with the bank, and no small craft were allowed outside of these, thus leaving two-thirds of the river, or a strip four hundred feet wide, entirely clear. Even the two little steam yachts, the one belonging to Mr., Willan, from which Mr. G. Morrison coached, and the other kindly loaned our men by Mr. Blyth, of Cambridge, and which our coxswain would steer over the course, guided by a waterman, once or twice a day, were not allowed within the above limits. Mr. Blyth's boat, by-the-way, is the fastest craft in Europe, having been known to do twenty miles an hour with ease. John Thorneycroft, Esq., the son of a well-known English sculptor, modelled and built her, and at first, before Mr. Blyth's came, placed at our service his own private steam-yawl, the Water-Lily. Most charming little boats are these, and unapproached as a means of "coaching" thoroughly and accurately.
The southern, or shore arch, of Hammersmith Bridge was by mutual agreement kept closed, and both boats were to pass under the Middlesex arch of Barnes Bridge.
For two or three days the weather had been very warm, and there was little evidence of moderation when the sun rose on the morning of the 27th. Soon after breakfast, although the struggle was not to come off until five in the afternoon, numerous carriages were seen making their way toward Mortlake, in order to locate themselves so as to be able to command a view of the finish, and hired men sat in and watched them to keep them in their place till needed. As the day wore on a strong breeze sprung up from the eastward, blowing directly up the course; and Elliott, the builder, seeing this, fairly danced with delight; for he had built his "ship" full-floored and sea-worthy, while the rival boat was noticeably narrower. Had this wind continued, there is strong reason to believe that it might have caused a result different from the actual one. But soon after two o'clock it began to subside, and when the hour drew near had almost died away.
At three the Thames Conservancy Board locked up the river, and even as early as four the track was about clear. All day long Putney had been very lively; and the booths and every other apparatus that has yet been devised for the spasmodic gathering of small change, which had established themselves along the bank, made every one full of spirits in anticipation. One long, steady, uninterrupted stream of boats of every dimension and cut, from the frail ten inch, single-scull shell to the lumbering lighter, as large as the craft that first carried Columbus to the New World, flowed onward up the river, under the Putney Bridge, and through the Aqueduct, to their chosen spots on either bank.
The London rabble could not all have been on the banks, because so many were on the water. The barges already referred to suddenly became, instead of the unsightly old hulks they are, perfect bouquets of beauty, from the gayly decked loads they bore; and few of the grim old Thames bargees but would like to see the Yankees "bock again", so steadily did the shekels accrue. Nor were the rowers in all the small craft men or boys only. Lovely English girls, true to their Oxford representatives, were recovering slowly forward, "catching the beginning," keeping their backs straight, and pulling a "nipping" stroke. This, indeed, was an everyday sight at Putney, and if seen oftener in our own land might make the sightly figure and the beauty of vigorous health less rare than they now are.
From the stations near Putney, by all the roads and foot-paths, long lines of eager people poured down toward the river. Great "'busses", with three horses abreast, and the ordinary kind for two, with "ten inside and fourteen out", and a burly, dignified, weather-beaten, grandfatherly-looking old "whip" perched a little higher than any one else, who stopped about once in fifteen minutes for his grog or his "'arf a pint of h'olden bitters", and nodded complacently to the demure little bar-maid who brought it; lumbering dog-carts with four and six on board, and perhaps a pony hardly larger than a well-grown Newfoundland to pull them (you never see a buggy in England, though the roads are far better adapted for them than ours); furniture vans we call them job wagons filled to overflowing with good, rotund, beer-drinking English; broughams and wagonettes, with an intense air of respectability; stately four-in-hands, with their jaunty little outriders and liveried footmen all flowed on in solid lines toward the little river which has been famous for thousands of years.
Every inn, every dwelling-house, every shanty along that river bank was a mine of gold to its owner. Twelve guineas were paid by one American gentleman for two small windows in the White Hart, at Mortlake. The Star and Garter, at Putney, where our men had at first stopped, was so draped with the flags of the two countries as to be scarcely distinguishable behind them. The Stars and Stripes fluttered at very short intervals all along the course. Now a barouche would drive by with the flags tastily festooned about it; and if you turned your eye riverward it would fall on some yacht or row-boat that reminded you of boat-races at home.
Arrangements were made by the Chief of Police, Colonel Henderson, for keeping the crowd orderly that were simply unprecedented. Six years ago forty constables were deemed sufficient to keep in order those who then attended the Oxford and Cambridge 'Varsity race. On the 27th of last August eight hundred police officers were detailed to watch the people on the bank alone, while river police boats were placed at every necessary point. Ropes were extended early in the afternoon across all roads leading to the river-edge, so that none except those on foot could reach it. Bands of music enlivened the scene, and "Yankee Doodle" vied with "God save the Queen" in exciting interest and approval.
The steamers of the referee and the press had taken their places directly above the chains which had been stretched across the river five hundred feet above Putney Aqueduct. The water had fallen almost dead calm, and the tide was running steadily though not swiftly up.
A little before five o'clock a procession of men, nearly all Americans, thirty strong, filed out through the garden gate of the White House and went directly on board the umpires' boat. Among them might be seen Russell Sturgis, of the house of Baring Brothers, a Harvard graduate of 1823; J. S. Morgan, the successor of George Peabody; Mr. Moran, Secretary of the English Legation; Professor Asa Gray, the botanist; Thomas Hughes, Charles Reade, George Wilkes, of New York, and many younger men, well fitted to represent the Americans. The thirty Oxford men they found on board were mostly all former 'Varsity oars, and most keenly did they watch every thing that was going on.
A little bustle at the London Rowing Club house, and the crowd separating, announce the launching of the Oxford boat. She is soon manned and away, greeted warmly all along the bank. Shortly after the Harvard men put out, and they too get their share of the applause. Both paddle over to the umpires' boat. The toss for place had been made by the referee, and won by Harvard. She chose the Middlesex station, for the reason that, for the first half mile, this position would give her the pole.
They back up to the line: two stout boats are attached to it at perhaps twenty yards apart. In one is a Thames waterman, in the other Walter Brown. The former catches the stern-post of the English boat, the latter of the American. Both wheel into line. The crowd on shore is perfectly quiet.
The Start at Putney
The starter cries out,
"I shall start you by the words, 'Are you ready?',
then will pause for a moment, and repeat,
'Are you ready?'
If no response comes, I shall say,
If either side breaks an oar in the first dozen strokes, I shall call you back by swinging my hat backward vigorously.
Now, then, look out!
Are you ready?"
"No!"says Mr. Tinne.
"Again: Are you ready?"
"No!" again from the same gentleman.
"When will you be?"
Their boat was not headed just right, and they were swinging it into place.
"Are you ready? Are you ready? Go!"
And, at fifteen minutes past five o'clock, both boats sprang away very fairly together.
Oxford rowed one more stroke that minute than she had ever shown in her hardest spurt in practice, scoring just forty-two. Loring, in our boat, was setting them forty-six. The papers would allow Harvard to get, perhaps, quarter of a length ahead in the first mile, but never more; nor would she hold that long. But somehow she was slipping along at a great speed; and when another minute had gone, and Oxford had pulled forty more, and Harvard forty-two, the latter was a fair half length in advance.
Hardly had the first stroke been taken when the mighty army on shore poured out the feelings which had been all this time pent up, in one tremendous roar. Preconcerted though it was, the wild
"'Rah!, 'Rah!, 'Rah!" of the little knot of partisans on the umpires' steamer hardly reached Loring's ear first. Burnham now takes his men out toward the others a little, and, for a moment, a foul seems inevitable.
"Look out, Mr. Burnham!" shrieks the little dark-blue coxswain; and the former pulls his starboard rudder-line and makes for mid-river.
Another minute is over, and now the strokes are thirty-nine and forty the latter by the Americans. And the half length has become a whole one. And such a din! Why, those on the umpires' boat, not eighty feet from the racers, almost tore their throats in efforts to be heard by their favorites. And yet the latter said afterward that they did not hear them once.
"That's it, Loring! Let 'em have it! Let 'em have it!"
"Oxford! Oxford! Oxford!"
"Burnham, what are you about?" And, sure enough, what is he? For he is clearly a length and a half to the fore, and yet he does not cross over to what would have been a shorter track, and take his rival's water. Here was the fatal mistake that day. So said every fair-minded man, English or American, on that umpires' boat. He makes a wide sweep toward the Middlesex shore and the Crabtree Inn, and reaches Hammersmith Bridge in eight minutes twenty-one seconds very good time, and still a whole length in front.
Oxford's stroke had fallen to thirty-seven, Harvard's to thirty-nine. Now Loring puts on the steam and draws away again, but it does not last. The strongest man in the Harvard boat the strongest man in either boat gives out now first. For some days past he had been slightly unwell, but, confident in his strength, he believed he would be up to his work. Foot by foot, inch by inch, the slow, ponderous swing of the dark-blue creeps up on her more active opponent. An eddy right off Chiswick Ait, into which our men are steered, delays them so that the two boats are level.
Down to it again lay the men of the crimson colors, and fight madly every inch of the way. But now their stroke seems to slacken, and looks distressed, and in the next minute the coxswain is vigorously dashing water on his aftermen a novel but excellent expedient. All the way, since they drew level, Oxford has been steadily pulling forty strokes a minute, while her antagonist never does over thirty-nine.
At Barnes Bridge, five furlongs from the finish, two lengths of clear water separate them. For miles back the dense mass on shore has been swaying and struggling, and now, like a mighty river, is sweeping on over fields and fences, ditches and hedges, wild, mad with fierce excitement, yelling at every breath, and with all its might. Seven hundred and fifty thousand people are said to have been there that day. Never but once in this generation has such a crowd been seen in England, and then when the Prince of Wales first brought his wife home. The Derby Day can not compare. All previous water fetes sink into insignificance.
And now they approach the goal. Most admirably has the track been kept clear, until now a boat, containing a lady and gentleman, stumbles into the course, and for a moment threatens to impede the leaders. Spurt after spurt do the losing men give their frail little craft, and when the winner crosses the line but "half to three-quarters of a length clear" separates them; so says Sir Aubrey Paul, the judge, at the finish.
Harper's New Magazine picture of the Finish at Mortlake
[ However The Illustrated London News had a rather different picture of the finish. Somehow in transmission across the Atlantic, (and who knows how? perhaps the new fangled cables were to blame) a central part of the picture between the two boats got left out. Of course it is actually the American picture above which more accurately represents what the finish judge decided. But it turns out there is more to it than a little partisan deception. As mentioned above there was nearly a collision near the finish and apparently Oxford were leading by some three lengths before being obstructed and paddling home just the half length up. So actually the British version gave a more accurate impression of what the result ought to have been! ]
The Illustrated London News Picture of the Finish at Mortlake
Two miles back Lyman's dress had become so disarranged as to greatly impede his movements,
causing the boat to lurch and roll so badly all the rest of the way that the bow oarsman said afterward
that he was prevented from pulling as hard as he often had done in training.
Both crews turn about and prepare to go down the river. Oxford starts away and paddles slowly down. Harvard delays a few minutes, until the small boats swarming around cover the river so completely that one might almost walk across. Though the crowd press so closely, not only is no unkind word heard, but
"Bravo, Harvard! Bravo! Well rowed! Well rowed!" is rung in their ears. The press becoming so great that it is useless to attempt to proceed, the men disembark, and, after remaining a short time on their little steamer, come on board the umpires' boat. Tired and hot they looked, and no true man could look otherwise after such a race. They steam away down the river and get quietly home.
Gloomy and depressed, some of them were prevailed on to cheer up, and attend a grand dinner at Mortlake, at the house of Mr. Phillips, a wealthy brewer. In the speech-making after dinner, toasts having been drunk to the Queen and to the President of the United States, different members of the crews and other gentlemen expressed themselves freely. Mr. Tinne had rowed many a hard race; but he had never been pushed harder by any crew before in fact, as hard. Their coxswain congratulated himself that he had not run into either bank or fouled the other boat. Cheer after cheer went up for the Harvard men, and "'Rah" followed "'Rah" for the Oxford. After many interchanges of friendly feeling they broke up at a late hour.
A few days after, the Harvard men, after accepting two out of the twenty or more invitations to dine out which at once poured in upon them, separated, some for a short tour upon the Continent, Mr. Simmons to remain in Germany to complete his education, and the others leaving for home. After a stormy passage, the latter were received in a most friendly manner by the city authorities of New York and Boston, as well as by very many boating men and friends.
Of the dinners attended by the crew before they separated, the one at the Crystal Palace, given by the London Rowing Club, was by far the finest. Full reports were sent home at the time, including the entire speeches of Mr. Dickens and Mr. Hughes.
[ The complete speech by Charles Dickens is here. ]
Disparaging remarks were made in some of our papers upon the Oxford men because only one of them, Mr. Willan, was present on that occasion. But the explanation of this was, that the rowing of the Oxford men, but for this match, would have ended months earlier; and that they, as it was, being forced to give up a large part of their vacation, had made their arrangements to leave immediately after the race, one, I believe, for Switzerland, another for Scotland, and the rest for other places, to enjoy the few holidays that remained. The dinner in question was only arranged some little time before the race day, and so the notice they had was not sufficient to enable them to alter their plans, and one of them expressed to the writer his regret at this state of facts.
It will not be out of place to state here why, when the Harvard men had a chance to take their opponent's water while off the Crab-tree Inn, they did not do so. In an interview with members of the Oxford crew some weeks before the race, Mr. Loring called attention to the custom of professional oarsmen in steering their boat, if leading, directly in front of the other, and throwing the back-wash from the former's oars right upon the bow of the latter. He stated that he regarded such an act as a piece of jockeyism, and one that gentlemen in their races should refrain from. Their President assented to this opinion, though with seeming reluctance. The act of our coxswain, then, was one in simple obedience to orders, however unwise, under the circumstances, such orders were. He was often most urgently pressed before the race to disobey them, should they come, but always refrained from committing himself.
The denouncing the act as very foolish in short, as fatal to our interests that day was not confined to any one English paper. It is plain that, had our men been directly in front of their opponents all the way from the Crabtree to Chiswick Ait, the latter would not have passed them so soon as they did, because they would have had to row all that distance in quite lumpy water, instead of that equally good with what the leaders had; and that this must be prejudicial to a narrow boat can hardly be better shown than by recalling how, as has already been said, our own boat rolled during the last two miles of the way, even though she was wider than theirs. Not unlikely, when Oxford reached the spot where they usually pass Cambridge, had they found that they did not go by, and could not tell how far ahead the others were, they would have become demoralized, ignorant of just what amount of power there was left in the other boat, and, pulling with less heart, have lost the race.
Had the Harvard Stroke been at his weight instead of nearly, if not quite, ten pounds under it; had Number Two been in his best condition, as he uniformly has been in all past races; had Number Three suffered no impediment from his clothes, thus enabling Bow to lay out all his strength effectively; and had the coxswain steered as an English one would have done; moreover, had they all had three months of practice together instead of three weeks, they would still have been no better off than their rivals. Only the night before the race I asked Mr. Willan if his crew were all right, and he said they were.
Again, supposing our men had been all right, it is not so certain they would have won. As nearly as the weights are known for the Harvard men neglected to weigh just before the race they compared about as follows:
Willan ....... 168 lbs
Yarborough .... 171 lbs
Tinne ......... 189 lbs
Darbishire .... 160 lbs
Hall .......... 102 lbs
Fay ........... 155 lbs
Lyman ......... 154 lbs
Simmons ....... 171 lbs
Loring ........ 146 lbs
Burnham ....... 105 lbs
|790 lbs||731 lbs|
Here, then, their Bow weighed thirteen pounds more than ours; their next man seventeen more than his mate;
the next eighteen, and the Stroke fourteen; while they had three pounds less of coxswain.
Thus they had over sixty pounds more of carrying weight, not fat, but good bone and muscle,
toughened and well-seasoned, every ounce of it, by many a fierce struggle.
* The methods of numbering the men in the boats in the two countries will be seen in the above schedule. They commence to number at bow, we at stroke.
[ I still can't make sense of that - Simmons should be labelled 2 ]
Again, from most accurate statistics, Oxford, averaging under thirty-nine strokes a minute the first half of the course, and this including their spurt at starting, averaged just forty the last half. Harvard, swift in the first half, never reached forty the last. These data were obtained with great care and accuracy by three gentlemen at the writer's special request. One of them an American gentleman connected with Oxford University, counted and jotted down Oxford's strokes each minute. A Harvard graduate counted Harvard's; and an American gentleman, timing with one of Benson's best chronometers, sent down by request for this special purpose.
A more surprising fact is, that the Oxford crew took just three more strokes in the whole distance than their rivals. This, at least, is no compliment to their peculiar "stroke" or "style" of rowing. That their method of "coaching" namely, watching their men in profile from some conveyance alongside, and crying out their faults to them at once, is superior to ours where the bow man, with enough other work to do, has to add this responsibility seems to me certainly reasonable. That such careful instruction applied to our peculiar stroke, with equally powerful men to pull it, would attain greater speed, the above figures seem to me to go to establish. It is very doubtful if Harvard will start quite as fast when she tries a four-mile and-a-quarter race again.
That an Oxford or Cambridge crew will be warmly welcomed and handsomely looked after, should they venture to this land, need hardly be stated, and the number who hope they will come has been many times multiplied by the event of the last Friday of last August.
Click for Hammersmith Bridge
Boat race in 1870s